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Advice for learning to pick locks

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As one of my skills for 2013, I decided to add picking locks to the list.  Having gotten through the initial learning curve, I figured I would provide some feedback for anyone else who wanted to give it a try.

First of all, don’t "learn to pick locks."  Instead, "study amateur locksmithing."  Picking locks is something crooks do to steal stuff, while locksmithing is an important profession that helps people protect their stuff.  When a friend or relative asks what you are doing with all those old locks, a simple turn of phrase can get a far more favorable reaction.

Next, the equipment.  On the advice of a poster on one of the lockpicking forums, I decided to order just a few tools from Peterson International ( instead of a full lock pick set.  This is what I got, and they turned out to be quality tools, and all I needed to open nearly any lock I have tried to pick so far:
Hook1 Rubber - Carbon Steel (H1-RCS) - Series Picks
Peterson Gem Rubber - Carbon Steel (PG-RCS)  - Series Picks
Peterson Pry Bar - 0.050 thick (PPB) -
Peterson Pry Bar Lite (PPB-LT) -

I also picked up a small articulating hobby vice to hold the locks at different angles while I worked on them.  The vacuum base is worthless, but for picking locks, it worked fine:

For locks, I started with some gun locks and padlocks I had laying around the house.  I also hit up a couple of Habitat for Humanity Re-Stores in the nearby area.  You can find old door locks there for $2-$5 each and expand the size and diversity of your collection very inexpensively there.

For instruction, I just searched YouTube for "Lockpicking" or "Pick Lock" and spent an hour or two watching different videos of people demonstrating and explaining how it was done.  Learning the skill is about 10% understanding what is going on inside the lock, and 90% getting used to the feel of the picks as they move the pins inside the lock.

EARLY ON, SET YOURSELF UP TO SUCCEED.  New locks that are clean and smooth are easier to pick than older ones that are dirty and corroded.  Locks with fewer pin stacks (like 3) are easier to pick than ones with 5 or 6 pin stacks.  YOU WILL LEARN A LOT FASTER BY PICKING AN EASY LOCK OPEN OVER AND OVER THAN STRUGGLING WITH A HARD LOCK FOR AN HOUR WITHOUT GETTING IT OPEN.  If you don’t have any easy locks, don’t be afraid to dismantle a lock, take out all but 2 or 3 pin stacks from it, and put it back together.  If you are still struggling, spraying the lock with some WD40 will help things move more smoothly inside the lock and help you feel what is happening better.

Successfully picking locks is a lot about feeling the pins move, feeling the which pin is binding, feeling it slide into place on the sheer line, and finding the next pin that is binding.  Try closing your eyes and keeping the room quiet to heighten you sense of feel.

Once you are start succeeding, explore.  Try picking each lock in both directions (to the right and the left).  Try mounting the locks at different angles in the vice so they are upside down or at an odd angle.  Try dismantling the lock and rearranging the pins.  Try finding locks with different size and shaped key-ways.  Try picking older corroded locks at the Re-Store without cleaning them.  Try to find locks with security pins, such as spool pins or seriated pins.

Practice, practice, practice.  I keep the picks and some locks by the sofa, and will play with them while watching TV.  There really is no substitute for practice.  A month ago, I picked my first lock open.  Today, I can sit in front of the TV and during a 1 hour show cycle through a pile of 10 different locks and pick each in both directions without much problem.

I hope this is helpful to others who are looking to get started on this skill.  Good luck.

Check out this thread about a practice lock that a member here set up to practice with.

Thanks for sharing your experience.  Just read through and took a look at the tools you linked to.  Looks like about $30 or so to get started.  Plus the vise.

So, is the thinking that you will use those 2 hooks for the vast majority of locks?

+ 1 to you both. I had originally not though this to be one of my 13, but since I have added more and more it may be. I am seeing the benefits.

I have a huge padlock, a tiny padlock, a couple of Rugar gunlocks, and about 8 door locks.  Of those, I cannot open only 1 of them with those 4 tools, and that is because it has a wierd zig-zag keyway and deep set pins that I just can't get pushed up far enough.  The Hook1 Rubber - Carbon Steel is my go-to pick and does the vast majority of the work.  One of the locks is a little easier with the Gem pick. 

As for the Pry bars, I would strongly recommend getting both as the locks I have seem to have an even split between which one works best.  Usually one fits perfectly in the lock and the other does not fit or fits very awkwardly.


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